One good thing about this scandal is that it allows for a public airing and discussion of related issues. For example, an alum recently e-mailed me with this:

it looks like the incident will become a much bigger issue, especially in light of the light “sanctions” that were imposed and the flat-footed response of the administration (this incident happened in May).

this particular incident happened in the Art department, but it has also come to light that similar incidents have occured in the Econ department and elsewhere, where faculty made disparaging remarks on students of color AND discriminated against them in the grading. certain students appeals to the dean, and it was decided by the committes that discrmination DID occur and their grades were corrected.

personally, I’m disappointed at our administration and the response, and I’m sure this issue will snowball when people find out how widespread and tolerated this type of stuff is among the faculty (especially among the more senior members). another reason to get rid of tenure.

This raises a host of issues, none of which I have first hand knowledge of. But lack of knowledge doesn’t prevent commentary, at least here at EphBlog, so:

1) I am extremely doubtful that this is a widespread problem at Williams. Even in the case of Laleian, I think that we have someone who is a hot-tempered, jerk who wanted to hurt/embarass Ali. She used a racial slur, not because she is racist — no one has suggested to me that she is — but because it served her purpose. If Ali were not African-American, then Laleian would have found a similarly offensive way of speaking.

2) If people, like this alum, want to pursue change at Williams, then they need to get a lot more specific with their stories/complaints. What year did this occur? What class was involved? Who served on the committees that intervened? And so on. I can understand why the students involved, even if they have since graduated, would want to keep their names out of things, but, if you want change, then you need to get specific.

3) Given the information above, I am highly suspicious. Students complain about grades all the time. Indeed, I have received my fair share of complaints in this regard. How is it possible to determine whether or not the bad grades were undeserved? How do you know when a professor has marked your paper lower because of your skin color rather than because of the quality of your arguments. Of course, this is another argument in favor of anonymous grading (which I always use), but that is a rant for another day.

4) My guess would be that the students complained and that the deans/professors involved (were there actually committee meetings for this case?) just decided that the easiest way to make the problem go away was to change some grades. Perhaps there is a lesson here for current students who want higher grades . . .

5) All of this (and many other consideration, repeatedly brought up here) connects to tenure, but the argument cuts both ways. Tenure is not needed in the presence of a strong/confident/capable senior administration (as Williams in blessed with today with Morty Schapiro/Cathy Hill/Nancy Roseman). Tenure would be a savior were the senior administration at Williams ever to become craven/ideological. We can all hope that that wouldn’t happen, but can we be sure?

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